Wikipedia Projects for Learning

student working on laptop

Most teachers consider Wikipedia the devil’s realm, a place where rumor and misinformation are spread. But in reality, studies have found that Wikipedia has an accuracy of a regular encyclopedia. Inaccurate information is quickly corrected by volunteer editors, and there are strict standards for entering content, including the rule that “everything must be cited.” Most important, Wikipedia is the place where many, if not most, people go to get initial information on a topic. This makes it probably the most important information source on the Internet, and because editing is public, it presents a wonderful opportunity for students to create articles as class assignments.

Developing Wikipedia articles lets students not only become content creators but also have a real impact on their world, as they know that their work will inform others. It is one of the best ways to add a practical application to course content and, as a result, improve student motivation and engagement.

There have been over 100 class and university projects in Wikipedia. One of the first was by Professor Jon Beasley-Murray at University of British Columbia in 2008. He had students in his Latin American Literature class create articles for Wikipedia on the books that they read.

As all Wikipedia work is reviewed by others, the students were instructed to make contact with the Wikipedia editors—called the “FA Team”—to receive feedback. This gave them a good understanding of Wikipedia article requirements. Many of these editors are academics, and thus Professor Beasley-Murray was effectively enlisting outside instructors to help students improve.

Wikipedia also has a quality ranking system that assigns “Good Article” or “Featured Article” status to exceptionally good works. About one in 800 articles reaches Good Article status, while one in 1,200 reaches Featured Article status. Beasley-Murray guaranteed an “A” for Good Articles and an “A+” for Featured Articles.

The results? The students, who worked in groups of two or three, produced three Featured Articles and eight Good Articles, an exceptional result given how few articles achieve these levels. These articles receive thousands of hits per month, demonstrating to students the value of their work.

I used Wikipedia in my Medical Ethics class by having a group create an entry for Surrogate Decision Maker. The article now gets over 1,000 views a month. The students who made it years ago can boast of having created something that is being viewed by researchers and possibly even medical professionals in real-life ethical situations.

Creating a Wikipedia article is not easy. It requires learning the article format, and students are likely going to be told to change it by the volunteer Wikipedia editors. Students should be told that despite their best efforts, they are very likely going to need to revise the work more than once. But revising work is a key to learning and improvement. As academics, we revise our articles many times before publication, yet do not require the same of students. Wikipedia assignments provide this experience without the instructor having to do the multiple reviews.

Since creating an article from scratch is a lot of work, one option is to have students add content to existing entries. This provides them with a manageable slice of a topic to address and the scaffolding to structure their entry. You will certainly find hundreds of entries related to your field that have room for more content.

I suggest making this a course-long project, since it will take students a while to research and write their entries. Finally, entries require many citations, so I suggest having students work in groups because of the time involved. Consult the “Guide for University Projects” below for information on how to structure a Wikipedia assignment.

Host a Course
Another option is to host course content on Wikiversity, which provides an easy way to put content outside the closed confines of the LMS by making it public. An instructor can load syllabi, lesson plans, and other material for the students to access both during and after a course. It will also show potential students what will be required of them in the course so that they can make an informed decision about whether to take it.

A Wikiversity page provides a place for students to add public content to a course. For instance, they could post information on projects that they developed during the course, speak to future students by adding recommendations for supplementary study material, or build self-tests on the material using the free quiz functions built into the system.

Take a look at what other faculty are doing in the listing of university projects below:

This article first appeared on Faculty Focus on November 11, 2016. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.